Many teenagers complain about having to get up before the sun to head off to school, but the students at Wake Young Women’s Leadership Academy recently spent time pondering the fact that in many countries, girls don’t even have the opportunity to get an education.
In fact, around the world, 70 percent of girls are not enrolled in secondary education, student body President Emma Verdi pointed out as she opened the WYWLA celebration of the first International Day of the Girl on Thursday.
WYWLA accepted the invitation of the United Nations General Assembly to observe the Day of the Girl by holding a community event at the Governor Morehead School. Dr. June Atkinson, state superintendent, gave the keynote speech, and more than 50 prominent community members attended.
“Day of the Girl is a celebratory, worldwide movement that helps empower fellow girls all over the world to talk about issues like gender discrimination, inequality and lack of opportunities,” Verdi said.
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Dean Julia Taylor said the celebration was an important one for the academy’s students.
“It is important to expose each young woman to the realities of the lives of girls worldwide and teach them that their voice matters,” Taylor said. “Women make up half the population, work two-thirds of the world’s working hours, receive 10 percent of the world’s income and own 1 percent of the property.”
During the past several weeks, WYWLA students prepared for the event by researching the issues. They came across statistics that surprised them, such as the fact that although more than 50 percent of the population is female, less than 3 percent of Fortune 500 Company CEOs are women.
“We have been arming them with information, and they are starting to become very passionate about the topics,” Taylor said. “A seventh-grade girl ran up to me outside one morning and exclaimed loudly, ‘Ms. Taylor, did you know that most of the women around the world can’t read? That’s why they are not CEOs, they can’t read. We need to teach them to read!’ ”
Verdi kicked off the day with a powerful example of why the students were focusing on girls’ issues.
“This past Tuesday, 14-year-old Malala Yousufzai was shot by the Taliban in Pakistan for standing up for girls’ education,” Verdi told the audience. “Malala won the country’s first peace prize for her courageous activism and reported to CNN last year that she feared being beheaded for fighting for her rights. This is outrageous, unbelievable and something we need to fight for.”
After the speeches, students and guests broke into small discussion groups. Crammed into every nook and cranny of Lineberry Hall, visitors listened as the girls discussed the problems of gender inequality and contemplated what could be done about it.
Ninth-grader Elora Hunter told her small group that she believes “publicity is the key,” echoing the Day of the Girl goal of raising awareness to provoke change.
Invited guests also offered the girls their support and advice. Entrepreneur Anthony J. Pompliano III encouraged a group of girls to view challenges as opportunities rather than problems.
Shery Boyles, director of admissions at Meredith College, joined a discussion about how powerful and important education is. Education teaches people to think critically and communicate effectively, she explained, and having those abilities creates the opportunity to participate in government. And that is when you are able to make systemic changes.
For Verdi, the first Day of the Girl coincided with her first official day as student body president. “This day really means a lot to me, our students and girls everywhere,” Verdi said.
“Our school focuses on empowering girls to reach their fullest potential. All girls deserve that.”